Cooking

Cookie Matrix Reloaded

The ultimate sugar cookie recipe, plus 25 ways to dress it up
Photo: Lizzie Munro/Tasting Table
Holiday Sugar Cookies

It's time to dust off your cookie cutters.

This holiday season, we committed to—and conquered—the perfect sugar cookie, the white whale of a Christmas cookie plate (see the recipe). But we didn't stop there: We made 25 variations on the theme and plotted them on a sliding-scale matrix from traditional to new school and trashy to classy. From elegant watercolor designs to edible glitter, Santa's getting spoiled this year.

The Cookies:

1. Classic Frosted: These royal frosting-topped circles are the golden standard of sugar cookies. Our recipe is not overly sweet (despite its name) and yields crispy edges with chewy centers.

2. Snowflakes: A deliberate dusting of light blue sugar crystals makes this traditional wintry shape feel elegant.

3. Christmas Sweater: The niche cookie cutter is worth the investment. Use your imagination in the off-season, because it could easily double as a floppy-eared dog.

4. Glitter Christmas Tree: Tinsel's only job is to look pretty, and we're rational enough to admit the same is true for edible glitter. Add enough green food coloring to your royal icing until obnoxious and go crazy with green sanding sugar, green glitter and, of course, a gold star.

5. Elvis: A little less conversation, a little more King of Rock and Roll. To make the dough, swap out half of the butter for peanut butter, remove 2 tablespoons of the sugar, and top with banana chips and crispy bacon.

6. Holiday Explosion: If your candy-filled stocking had a hole in the bottom and a frosted cookie was there to catch the goods, this is what would happen. Bake, frost and load it all on.

7. Watercolor: For your "paint," start by mixing 1 teaspoon of water with 2 drops of food coloring, adjusting until you get the desired hue. Let the royal icing dry completely first, then decorate for Met-worthy cookies.

8. Art Deco: Have a very Gatsby Christmas. For glitter paint, add drops of clear liquor (be subtle, it's Prohibition) to edible glitter dust until fluid enough to paint with.

9. Pearls: Get that Audrey Hepburn look by adorning circles with edible pearls. Commit to the theme by giving them as a gift inside a little blue box.

10. Five Golden Rings: These are clearly what the classic Christmas song is referring to. Frost the thin cookie round then press it into a pile of gold glitter.

11. Lemon Curd Sandwich: Cut out the middle of one cookie before baking. Once baked, press it onto a curd-topped one to reveal a window of sweet-tart citrus filling. Add lemon zest to the icing for extra punch.

12. Piña Colada: If you're in dire need of a poolside cocktail, spike your royal icing with rum and top with dried pineapple rings and toasted coconut flakes.

13. Beet Candy Cane: Get a head start on your January detox and frost your cookies with beet juice. Reduce 1 cup of the juice to ¼ cup and use in place of lemon juice and water in your royal icing.

14. Funfetti Bracelet: 1985 called—it wants its candy necklace back. To make the latest in edible fashion, mix nonpareils into the dough and cut into button-size rounds. Use a skewer to poke a hole into the middles, bake as usual and string them onto a piece of twine once cool.

15. Alfajor: As South Americans figured out long ago, two cookies stuffed with dulce de leche are better than one with frosting.

16. Powdered Sugar Stencil: Use a smaller cookie to create an inverse design without actually having to carve out a stencil. Hover it over the one you're decorating and dust with powdered sugar. When you're done, eat the sugar-covered stencil.

17. Mexican Wedding: Toast ½ cup of pecans and use your hands to form the dough around a nut to form a ball. These will be slightly larger than rolled cookies, so they require 3 to 5 extra minutes in the oven. While they're still warm, toss them in confectioners' sugar to coat.

18. Hippie Angels: All these hemp seed- and goji berry-topped bites want is world peace and no more global warming.

19. Princess of Persia: The Prince shouldn't get to have all the fun, so we gave this Middle Eastern-leaning cookie to the girls. Add 1 teaspoon of ground cardamom to the dough and replace the almond extract with rose water. Top with pistachios and rose petals after frosting.

20. Sweet Potato Casserole: Haters of the "overly sweet" classic holiday side be damned, because this one truly is a dessert. Substitute half the butter for sweet potato purée, spread on marshmallow fluff once baked and use a kitchen torch to brulée the top.

21. Negroni: Have your aperitif and eat it, too. Zest an orange into the dough and replace the icing's water with Campari and lemon juice with sweet vermouth. Try not to steal the candied orange peel off the cookies—Santa's watching.

22. Soft Drop: We're weak in the face of Lofthouse sugar cookies, the packaged darlings that blur the line between cake, cookie and baked magic. To make your own, remove ¼ cup of flour from the recipe, add ¾ teaspoon of baking powder and ¼ cup of sugar. Use your hands to roll out ping-pong ball-size rounds, toss in a bowl of sugar and bake.

23. Pink Peppercorn Snickerdoodle: We spiced things up and replaced the cinnamon in this classic with something more interesting. Use the soft drop cookie base here, then roll it in a mixture of sugar and ground pink peppercorns.

24. Matcha: Substitute 3 tablespoons of flour with matcha powder to get earthy flavor and emerald color, which we're also fond of adding to gingerbread cookies.

25. Spritz: Replace the large egg with 2 egg yolks, remove ¼ cup of flour and the leavening, and add ¼ cup of unsalted butter to make these crisp, traditional butter cookies. If you don't have a cookie press, ask anyone who was around in the 1970s if you can borrow one.

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